What If? Rejects #12.1: Ticks

Adult deer tick.jpg

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Q: What if I swallow a tick that has Lyme disease? Will my stomach acid kill the tick and the borreliosis, or would I get Lyme disease from the inside out?

Randall’s response: “Just to be safe, you should swallow something to kill the tick, like Solenopsis geminata (tropical fire ant). Then, swallow a Pseudacteon curvatus fly to kill the ant. Next, find a spider…

My response: I’m going to be honest…I’ve got nothing here.

I tried looking up the pH tolerance of Borrelia bacteria and didn’t find much. Then I tried to look up whether Borrelia is ever found in the stomach, and I got a big mess of claims, very few of which I actually trust.

Lyme disease is a complicated beast. It can be hard to diagnose, hard to treat, and symptoms can linger for months even after successful treatment. It can cause wide-ranging symptoms, and it attracts a lot of quacks. Websites claim that Lyme disease can mask itself as a bunch of other diseases, including stomach problems, and it is absolutely true that it can really screw up your liver. There is a worrying about of overlap between websites blaming Lyme for everything under the sun and websites offering alternative remedies and/or claiming to support the unrecognized diagnosis of “chronic Lyme disease”.

Advocates of the chronic Lyme disease hypothesis claim that Lyme disease is often not wiped out by a normal course of antibiotics and can linger for months or years and can cause any number of symptoms, including many symptoms not seen with a typical Lyme diagnosis. Opponents point to studies that indicate that “chronic Lyme” sufferers either have the well-known “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome,” without an ongoing infection, or they simply never had Lyme in the first place and have had a misdiagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome or something similar. They have also raised the alarm of the claimed chronic Lyme disease contributing to the overuse of antibiotics.

So the bottom line is, I don’t know. There are a lot of claims out there, and I don’t know enough about medicine to separate the truth from the pseudoscience. I’ll just note that we know Borrelia is carried in the tick’s stomach to infect humans, so I have feeling that swallowing it isn’t going to end well for you.

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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Well, Star Wars Episode VIII is here, and it’s proving to be not only the biggest movie of the year, but also one of the most controversial. Not in the news headlines, that is, but quietly, in the actual audience reaction. Rotten Tomatoes rates The Last Jedi at 93% fresh from the critics, but only 56% from the audience. Why? Well, that’s complicated, but I think a big part of it is that it changed the “flavor” or style from the original Star Wars.

My opinion, though: I really liked it. Yes, the style was different. A friend of mine put it more lucidly than I ever could when he said, “It had a little too much Marvel in it.” But despite this, I really liked The Last Jedi. I honestly thought it was the best Star Wars movie yet. Yes, they changed the tone some, but I think, dare I say it, that those changes were necessary and made for a better movie and a better franchise.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

Spoilers below.

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What If? Rejects #11.2: Fire Tornadoes!

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Q: Are fire tornadoes possible?

Randall’s response: “YES. Fire tornadoes are a real thing that actually happens. Nothing I say could possibly add to this.”

My response: ‘Nuff said.

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Television Review: The New Mythbusters

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The Discovery Channel’s wildly popular MythBusters series ended in 2016, but it turned out that the show just couldn’t stay away. The Science Channel picked it up again, airing a game show to choose the new hosts of the series. Last month, the new MythBusters, Jonathan Lung and Brian Louden, started their own run of the show with plenty of all-new myths to explore.

I have to say, I don’t think the new MythBusters lives up to the standard set by Adam and Jamie. The show feels unpolished, and while Jon and Brian are fun, they don’t have the chemistry Adam and Jamie did. Now, part of this is probably inexperience. Jon and Brian are new and don’t have the ten years of mythbusting under their belts that their predecessors did. If you went back to the early seasons of the show, you would probably see some lower-quality work there, too.

What worries me a bit more is what I feel like is a drop in the scientific rigor and thinking of the new show. Adam and Jamie sometimes had this problem, too (don’t get me started on some of the driving myths), and to be honest, I felt that their final season was also lacking in fact-checking and well-thought-out conclusions, and it’s not all the new hosts’ faults.

It’s hard to say precisely why I feel the show has lost something in the transition. It’s little things like not doing the (fairly easy) math to find the correct fuel-air mixture for the chimney cannon (it makes sense in context) and failing to properly account for the order effect in the road rage myth, not to mention using a much smaller sample size than they used to. I’m just seeing some red flags here.

Still, it’s early, and I’m hopeful that Jon and Brian will learn over time as Adam and Jamie did. They’re off to a shaky start, but the show it still entertaining and worth watching, and with its strong history, I’m optimistic for its future.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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What If? Rejects #11.1: Moving an Island

Satellite image of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in April 2002.jpg

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Q: What if everyone in Great Britain went to one of the coasts and started paddling? Could they move the island at all?

Randall’s response: “NO.” Also, a picture of people paddling on the shore, in which one of them says, “Wait, maybe we need to disconnect the Chunnel first.”

My response: Um…no. Great Britain is a mass of rock that is fused to Earth’s surface over an area of over 200,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles). You’re not going to be shifting that. You’ll have infinitely better luck waiting for continental drift to do the job for you.

So let’s try to answer a bonus question instead. In Randall’s drawing, the people of Britain appear to be standing 20-30 feet apart on the shore while they’re paddling. Is this accurate to the size of Great Britain?

Well, the island of Great Britain has a population of about 61 million, and the length of its coastline is…uh-oh.

The length of a coastline is a notoriously difficult thing to define, and you have to construct a pretty arbitrary definition for the number to be meaningful at all. Click below to see why.

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Movie Review: Coco


Pixar’s latest film, Coco, is an epic story set in Mexico and centered around the traditional holiday, Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). In it, Miguel, a budding musician in a family that hates music, becomes trapped in the land of the dead whilst trying to emulate his famous musician ancestor, and he must find his way home before sunrise to keep from becoming one of the dead himself. It’s hard to do the story justice in a summary like this without giving it away because this is a fantastic movie. It has a gripping story with really genuine stakes (especially considering half the cast is already dead), and touching family moments that go much deeper than you expect at the start. All I can really say is, “go see it.” You’ll be glad you did.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

Coco is a really breaking new ground for Pixar. With a story set in Mexico, they went above and beyond to accurately portray Mexican culture, starting with a Mexican-American co-director and songwriters, and evenmore notably, it is the biggest-budget film ever with an all-Latino cast.* And if you’re worried that they compromised on quality by switching out their veterans, don’t be. It’s honestly hard to rank Pixar movies since literally two thirds of them are scored over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, but Coco is absolutely a hit, showing Pixar on its top game like we haven’t seen since Inside Out.

Okay, so it’s not perfect. The plot is a bit slow in the middle, and it could afford to be tightened up by ten minutes or so, but I honestly didn’t have much of a problem with that. A lot of the plot hangs on Poor Communication Kills, but in this case, there’s at least a plausible reason for it to happen. In the end, none of the movie’s flaws are enough to detract from the quality of the story in my opinion.

Let me put it this way: it takes a lot for a movie to make me tear up. Even in very emotional movies, it rarely happens. Coco did it, and that’s probably the best endorsement I can give it.

*With one exception for Pixar’s “lucky charm,” John Ratzenberger, who stars in every Pixar movie sort of like an animated Stan Lee. He voices a small cameo role.

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What If? Rejects #10.3: Turkey Day

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Q: What if every day, every human had a 1 percent chance of being turned into a turkey, and every turkey had a 1 percent chance of being turned into a human?

Randall’s response: No response.

My response: Allow me to put on my fiction writer’s hat. The obvious answer is that we wouldn’t be eating turkeys anymore, but it’s actually much more complicated and interesting than that. This is an exercise in worldbuilding: designing a fictional world and establishing self-consistent rules for how that world operates. And so, in the spirit of the season, let’s create…Turkey World.

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